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Councillors challenge decision to revamp Suffolk's children's centres amid concerns about report flaws

A controversial decision to revamp Suffolk's children's centres has been put on hold after a challenge from county councillors.

The opposition Labour and Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent groups have united to call-in the decision made by Suffolk County Council's Conservative administration to change children's centres into family hubs amid concerns about flaws the authority's reports.

The call-in is effectively a challenge to the way the decision was reached and yesterday it was announced it will be heard at a scrutiny committee meeting next week.

Suffolk County Council's Endeavour House headquarters, in Ipswich.
Suffolk County Council's Endeavour House headquarters, in Ipswich.

The council's monitoring officer said the committee should investigate the financial impact of the change and how the new outreach model would deliver services when it meets on Friday.

Cllr Jack Abbot, Labour, said: “We have long said that the Tory cuts to Suffolk’s children’s centres lacked detail and evidence, and this successful challenge proves it.

“It is now incumbent on the scrutiny committee to properly investigate these proposals and hold decision makers to account.

“We can’t have a repeat of the school transport fiasco where a flawed policy was waved through, directly leading to the chaos we have seen over the past two years."

And Cllr Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw, Green Party, said the changes to children's centres were a "mistake".

"Ever since these changes were first suggested last year, children’s centre staff, families and councillors have been very vocal about their concerns with the new model," she said.

"I hope the scrutiny committee will now listen to those concerns and ask the cabinet to reconsider," she said.

If the challenge is accepted by the scrutiny committee it tell the county's leaders to review their decision or even send it to all of Suffolk's county councillors.

As part of the changes into family hubs the council is set to close two centres - Caterpillar Children's Centre in Woodbridge and Chatterbox in Ipswich - as well as converting eight centres into nurseries and make 11 part-time.

Seventeen will remain open full-time including Newmarket's Foley House, in Wellington Street, which was saved after a council U-turn.

Cllr Mary Evans, who as cabinet member for children's services and education is leading the change, has said that the changes aim to offer more outreach services to help those in hard-to-reach rural areas and cater for those aged up to 19 years old rather than just the current five.

The new model, she said, would save around £435,000 in building costs, which will be pumped into staffing, and help recruit 12 outreach workers.

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